METRO PLUS

On the fusion bandwagon

Mukul Dongrey  

HAVE YOU heard the mesmerising Colonial Cousins or the scintillating rhythms of Trilok Gurtu, Sivamani, Taufiq Qureshi, the amazing keyboard of Louis Banks teaming up with others like Rakesh Chaurasia, Sabir Khan? Well, these are just a few of the fusion concerts which have been held in the twin cities in the last one year. Fusion is very much the flavour of today and a part of the music scenario. It captivates the young and the old. A synthesis of the classical traditions of the East and West, the past and present, with today's techno sounds and rhythms thrown in, a blend of musical instruments and traditions of singing - and presto you have fusion. Never mind if it is a much-used term connoting anything from the light (musicians merely jamming together) to the serious attempts (structured synthesis), it is in vogue. With classical musicians joining the fray it warrants a hearing. Fusion music may sound like an oxymoron to many. But, it is real and happening. More and more musicians are teaming up to blend music which is increasingly being lapped up by people.

Says Aarti Ankalikar, renowned vocalist and unofficial spokesperson of the (soon to be called) `Shoonya' group, "music has been changing . It has always been adapting to new circumstances and conditions. It has never remained static. Fusion music is one such endeavour." And they say they are not the pioneers either. Aarti and the group of which she is a part are symbolic of the new genre. The members of this to-be-formed group were in the city for a private concert.

Jaywant Naidu

Jaywant Naidu  

Aarti Ankalikar is a trained vocalist in the Agra-Gwalior gharana. She trained under Kishori Amonkar and her latest claim to fame has been her song in Shyam Benegal's Sardari Begum. Rupak Kulkarni, flautist, is a disciple of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and is today an outstanding exponent of the Maihar gharana. Then, there is the tabla player - Satyajit Talwalkar, son and disciple of Pandit Suresh Talwalkar. At the other end of the spectrum and perfectly blending with the traditional ragas and thumris is Mukul Dongrey, on the drums. The group also has Harmeet Manseta on the keyboard and while in Hyderabad, the group also has our own Jaywant Naidu, chartered accountant-cum-Hawaiian guitar player. That gives some idea of what fusion music and its exponents are all about.

Fusion music, which is all about a mix of various schools and styles of music, may make the purists squirm. But the artistes of today are not rattled. They are more open to assimilation and collaboration than musicians were at any time before. Says Harmeet Manseta, "this is a change for betterment. Didn't we give up the bullock cart for the car?" Adds Aarti, "these are innovations; creative innovations. We are not doing anything new. Innovation and experimentation in music have been on from time immemorial. The tastes of the audiences are changing. The tastes of the musicians too are changing. That is what fusion music is all about. We are attempting to integrate or blend traditional music with jazz (one wouldn't normally find a classical singer being accompanied by drums, for instance) and the audiences are enjoying it." Maybe, there isn't sufficient reason for the purists to grumble. "At heart, we all love our music. The ragas are the same. The melody and the colouring are the same. Just that there is a little more masala to it now. But, that seems to be what the present generation wants," says Mukul Dongrey. Moreover, as Harmeet says, "Indian music is divine. It is a pathway to God and we realise that even in the midst of the fusion. Music is a vital part of our culture and spirituality. Our foundations in music are there." In a certain way, fusion music has actually done a great service to classical Indian music by preserving it at the turn of the 21st Century in the wake of the crass MTVisation of the Indian audiences and their tastes. Albeit, in a slightly repackaged format. It sounds cliched, but not many appreciate the finer nuances of a long (they would call it laborious) alaap or a soulful tani avartanam in today's fast-paced world.

Satyajit Talwalkar

Satyajit Talwalkar  

Fusion music, could, therefore, just be a way by which the rich and profound music of the past can be safely handed to the next generation in a more contemporary format. A similar exercise in Karnataka has already borne fruit - quasi-classical renditions of Purandaradasa and other Haridasa krithis are being lapped up. The renditions may not be replete with elaborate alapanas, nonetheless, the songs are a hit with many techies and other jeans-sporting youngsters.

Aarti Ankalikar

Aarti Ankalikar  

Says Rupak Kulkarni, "the last generation was born without the benefit of Star TV. The threat that MTV and other satellite channels could have posed can itself be used as a vehicle for projecting sfusion music through the very channels." With different instruments, backgrounds and styles, is it difficult to blend the diversities? "Not at all. The blending just happens. It is a fusion of all the instruments. It is a wonderful mix of so many things and we all enjoy. Each of us gives in the best and we have the chance to dominate. So it is a musical war!" smiles Satyajit Talwalkar. Adds Aarti, "initially there may have been a cultural shock. Now, we realise that each of us needs to be authentic and do our best. We have been together for over a year now and have enjoyed being so." The success of the team, soon to be called `Shoonya', also depends on the interpersonal spaces between the artistes. Says Mukul, "we are all equal. We have no band leaders." When not performing as a group, each of them individually pursues his/her own concerts/performances. Bands do well, if the individuals do well.

Rupali Kulkarni

Rupali Kulkarni  

After `Shoonya' is launched, they hope to "take it to festivals and look forward to take it forward." About their future plans, Aarti quips, "living in the present is the best.

At the end of it all, we are all dedicated musicians and we seem to have made it without much of a struggle and hope to carry on by bringing more music to the ears of music lovers."